Saturday, 23 February 2013

Red Bull’s Secrecy in Testing: Concealing new developments or creating an illusion?

Formula One pre season testing is something of an enigma.  Not televised live, with after the event coverage being limited to half an hour, it is surrounded by a veil of secrecy.  Providing the opportunity to test new ideas and developments prior to the upcoming season, the teams are keen to shield the cars as much as possible, in order to prevent any new innovations being poached by rivals.  The swirling air of the clandestine that encases testing means it is the ideal time for teams to test how close to the regulation boundaries they can sail.  Two teams unable to disguise their evolution's were Caterham and Williams with the CT03 and FW35 both breaching the regulations with their exhaust layouts.  Although now deemed legal, the innovative new brake ducts on the Williams were scrutinised and the idea will no doubt soon be being adapted to suit the other cars on the grid. 

All teams surround their garages by secrecy shields during testing, but some create a more extensive mask.  So which team has the most to hide?  Red Bull were, without doubt, the most furtive in Barcelona.  While the other teams pull the cars back into the garage in full view of photographers and fans following a run, Red Bull pull their screen out to totally eclipse the RB9 on its return. 

Their attempts at concealment didn’t stop there.  A silver shrouding blanket was evident, thrown over the top of the car to further hide it from onlookers. 

In contrast to their current nemesis, Ferrari were very open on day one of testing at the Circuit de Catalunya.  There was no attempt to cloak the F138 as Fernando Alonso was wheeled in and out of the garage for all to see and almost as a spectacle for anyone watching, the nose was changed in the pit lane. 

Day two saw Ferrari behaving a little more secretively as they sheltered their car by ensuring the garage door was pulled down to meet the secrecy screen, perhaps due to the problems suffered with their exhaust pipe.  Likewise, Mercedes adopted the same method of obscuring their car from view, particularly on Tuesday when they didn’t manage as much running as they would have liked due to a gearbox issue.  Also suffering gearbox issues, the Lotus garage was highly shielded for the majority of the day. 

With Red Bull leading the development race for the last three years at the hands of aero wizard, Adrian Newey, it is understandable that they should want to hide any evolutions for fear of rivals emulating what they see.  However, their extraordinary attempts at concealment are laced with arrogance.  Their belief that they are superior and therefore will be the main focus for rival’s interest is far from endearing.  They are not the most adored team in the paddock, a badge that often comes hand in hand with continued success, especially when the team lacks the history that Ferrari, Williams and McLaren possess. 

Like the driving of Michael Schumacher, Red Bull are synonymous with pushing the boundaries, taking things to the limit.  In 2012 numerous developments made by the team were deemed questionable under technical regulations.   The holes in the floor ahead of the rear wheels on the RB8 were questioned before the Monaco Grand Prix.  Although not resulting in a protest, they were told to remove this design feature before the next race in Canada.  Prior to the German Grand Prix at Hockenhiem, the FIA were alerted to the fact that Red Bull were running a questionable torque map by their technical delegate Jo Bauer.  It was decided that it didn’t breach regulations, but the removal of it was ordered in time for the next race in Hungary.  This was followed by the ‘rideheight’ issue that emerged at the Hungaroring, when it was reported that a request had been made for the team to abolish the function to change the rideheight manually.    Red Bull are well renowned for taking development to the edge and are especially skilled at it. 

So what are Red Bull hiding?  Do they have a revolutionary, on the edge development under wraps or are they creating smoke and mirrors because they don’t?  With other teams such as Williams revealing interesting changes to their car for the 2013 season, Red Bull may be feeling the pressure, possibly fuelling mind games.  Their overzealous approach to creating mystery around testing could just be an illusion.  One that will be shattered in Melbourne. 

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